Category: Religion

Relgious Freedom Laws: Who Needs ‘Em?

Dear Mom, 

Not feeling 100% qualified—nor 100% unbiased—to comment on the need for religious freedom laws, I turned to my good friend and colleague David for his perspective.

“Are religious freedom laws necessary?” I asked.

His response: “No. We already have them.  We don’t need more. They’re just a cover for discrimination.”

I feel like David is a better gauge on this issue because he’s a pretty religious guy.  He attends church regularly, and is very involved in his church community.  David’s straight, and white, and a lifelong Christian, and I’ll freely admit that when he first started teaching at Newport I made all sorts of assumptions about his beliefs around LGBT issues.

Turns out, my assumptions couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

As we got to know one another and work together, it became pretty clear that David is about as far left politically as one can get.  He’s also been a huge advocate for LGBT students, and his convictions and moral determination to make our district curriculum more inclusive and representative of all populations—regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation—has been inspirational.

This from a guy who was brought up in the conservative double-whammy religious traditions of Independent Baptist and Pentecostal fundamentalism.

According to David, who credits finding (I’m going to quote here) “a real faith” beyond the religious traditions he grew up in with saving his life, the religious freedom laws are nothing but “a pathetic fig leaf attempting to cover the larger desire to create Christian law and theocracy” in America.  People of faith, he says, have a guarantee of plenty of rights under current law. After all, the practice of religion receives federal protection. Christians of course are welcome to their beliefs as long as they realize that once they interact in the public space, their desire to refrain from committing an immoral action by, say, providing floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding doesn’t mean they are entitled to protection.  IMG_0046

Which brings us back to David’s original point, which is that supporters of these religious freedom laws are just looking for an excuse to discriminate.  Feeling threatened by the shifting sands of a political climate that is, to paraphrase MLK, bending toward justice, those who want to deny rights to LGBT individuals are hiding under the cloak of what they obviously feel is the last possible justification  for their hatred.

As many others have pointed out, this is not new.  Religion has been used to justify slavery, enshrine Jim Crow laws, and keep women from voting. The plethora of current laws are disturbing, I agree.  But it’s an old tune that’s sounding more and more tired, and will ultimately wear itself out.  Of that, I am convinced.

However, Signorile’s point about the battle not being over is well worth heeding.  The bakeries who don’t want to provide cakes for same-sex couples and florists who don’t want to do flowers for same-sex weddings are one thing. I was talking to Mark about this a couple of weeks before this issue blew up in the media, and he said he just couldn’t believe that there were that many businesses out there who wanted to turn away the business.  Well, it seems that there are, or at least that politicians believe there are.

More to Signorile’s point, the bigger concern is to get federal employment non-discrimination laws passed, have sexual orientation added as a federally protected class of individuals and overturn state laws baring same-sex couples and LGBT individuals from adopting.  Once these are in place, as many religious freedom laws can pass in state capitals as are necessary to pander to the needs of paranoid bigoted legislators and their like-mined constituents.

It seems clear to me that the likes of Governors Pence and Hutchinson are clearly in the losing camp, along with their historical forbearers George Wallace, Anita Bryant, and even Karl Rove.  The swift backlash agains the laws in Indiana and Arkansas was notable not for the usual suspects like HRC, Signorile, and Cher (thanks for your tweets!). But when the NCAA, Walmart, and a slew of other Fortune 500 companies start lining up against you, the writing does seem to be on the wall.

Love, Christopher

When Will Hate be Over?

Dear Christopher

There are many anti-LGBT bills before state legislatures around the country. This, at a time when many of us are feeling good about marriage equality. So many states legalizing same-sex marriages and the Supreme Court taking up the case! How great is that. However, I have been feeling anxious about it all. It seems to me many forces are at work against equality.

So when I saw Michelangelo Signorile on CNN the other day, he confirmed my worst fears. He talked about the bill passed in Indiana recently allowing businesses to use religion to discriminate against LGBT people. Also, he said he went to a conservative conference at which speakers proposed finding ways to legislate against gay people marrying by using religion. They boasted that they had found ways to limit abortion by similar means.

Like women’s rights, and African-American rights, some legislatures are going to try to find a way to legislate against gay rights. We have to speak and fight against this. Thankfully in Indiana big corporations made their views known. What about the rest of us who do not have multimillion-dollar companies behind us?

Of course through the courts. But on a personal level we have to make clear why this is wrong. I still don’t understand why people feel the need to prevent others who are in love from being together or having political rights or parenting children. But of course I don’t understand why people insist on politicizing a woman’s body. Or why legislatures in some states want to prevent African-Americans from voting.

Its Not OverIn addition it seems like fair-minded folks might be able to have a conversation about these issues without resorting to name-calling. I went to look at Signorile’s home page to get information on his new book, It’s Not Over, and saw comments that were patently anti-gay, and disrespectful. I know the Internet grants anonymity and so people behave badly, but do they have to? I have to admit I have said nasty things about Republicans in the privacy of my home. But I would not do that in public. (Well except maybe here.) And the Internet is a public venue. Plus these folks were attacking another human being without the courage to put names next to comments. Very poor behavior!! Internet trolls seem to be part of this new age of instant talk without the filters of good sense. But those old-fashioned manners have a lot to say for them.

Not long ago I spoke to a member of our church who has a gay son. She has not shared this with even her closest friends. This made me angry as well as sad. I feel she was being unfair to both her son and her friends. I believe all of us who are in gay families have a duty to speak about them to others. To let others know that when you criticize or, even worse, legislate against gay people you are offending someone’s mother, father, child, brother, or sister. It’s important to put a human face on discrimination and call if for what it is. In my experience most people will respond to a personal story. So to keep that part of one’s life hidden contributes to homophobia. Also, because her son must feel some lack of acceptance by his mother, this makes me sad, very sad.

Well what do you think? What about our dear readers? A recent message from the Human Rights Campaign said there are almost 85 pieces of anti-gay legislation moving through state legislatures around the country. It’s not over, no matter how much we might wish this were so.

Love, Mom

Love is (not so) Strange

Dear Mom,

This year’s Oscars show was a real treat, and it may well have been the gayest Oscars ever:

Neil Patrick Harris as host! And on stage in his tighty-whities to boot!

Chris Pine (my celebrity crush—just ask Isabella!) in tears after John Legend and Common gave a rousing performance of their Oscar-winning song from Selma.

Graham Moore (who latter had to clarify that he is, in fact, not gay), drawing attention to the ill-treated gay hero Alan Turing!

Lady Gaga belting out a tribute to The Sound of Music to the thrill of Julie Andrews and gays everywhere!

So much gay to go around!

A tiny little bit of celluloid gay from 2014 that slipped by without any awards but doesn’t deserved to be overlooked was Love is Strange, starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as an older gay couple who after four decades together decide to get hitched. (It also featured Cheyenne Jackson’s biceps in a stellar supporting role, but that’s another matter entirely.) A touching tribute to the power of love and commitment, it brings to life in small, touching moments the strength we receive from those who we choose as our family.

One of the qualities that I loved about it was that it’s not about being gay.  Yes, it is ironic that the act of getting legally married is the catalyst for the separation of this long-devoted duo, and yes, the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church is fully on display in a plot twist all too familiar for some gay and lesbian couples. But the beauty of this story lies somewhere other than the sexual orientation of its main characters.

two men holding hands on a beachI saw in Ben and George the story of Phil and Marion once they had sold their home and moved into Dosberg Manor.  I remember your phone calls from that time, as you spoke about how your parents, married for over fifty years, were forced to live in separate rooms once Pa got too sick and needed more frequent and intensive care. They were inseparable for as long as I could remember, and it was difficult to imagine them having to live and sleep apart.

For Ben and George, the separation follows swiftly on the heels of George being sacked from the Catholic school where he teaches music.  His marriage to Ben is a public avowal of his homosexuality, and in direct violation of diocesan policy.  Even though everyone already knew he was gay, the parish priest unceremoniously fires him.  Without George’s income, the pair are forced apart when they can no longer afford their Manhattan co-op.  George moves in with his nephew and his family, and Ben accepts a couch in the home of their former neighbors.

There is a vivid scene when George rushes over to see George, and hugs him hard, sobbing into his shoulder. Although I can’t recall ever seeing Ma and Pa hug, this cinematic scene embodied how I imagine Ma and Pa felt on some level. How does a couple, together for decades, suddenly manage living apart?

The filmmaker, Ira Sachs, provides no easy answers nor does he engage in tidy moralizing.  They have a few years on us, but I saw in Ben and George a fair approximation of the life Patrick and I share. Both were a bit soft in the middle, their banter includes the very real nagging and complaining that makes up any marriage, but they are surrounded by family and close friends, and full of passion, the arts, and creativity.

Sachs’ triumph here is to transport the audience to each ordinary joyous and painful moment for these two strong, wounded, flawed men, and to show how they benefit from, and impact, the people they hold dear.  In that way, the movie moves beyond an impassioned call for marriage equality, and instead encourages viewers to tune into the small, quiet everyday blessings in our own lives.

In a year when gender roles were upended in the children’s fable Frozen, and all sorts of roles and expectations were turned inside out in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Love is Strange pushes the envelope in its own subtly political way. Salon rightly called the movie “more than a gay-marriage story. (It is a) gorgeous fable of American life.” It’s about time that a gay couple take their place at the head of such a fable.

You and dad should check it out!

Love, Christopher